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murgie

HELP wanted with RTI Appeal: What constitutes "misleading information?"

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murgie

I recently received a response from SEBI regarding stale historical FII trade record information, in which the FII IDs are understandably masked to preserve privacy. But unlike other regulators elsewhere in the world who mask trader IDs, SEBI actually does not just mask the data but changes the mask each month. So it is impossible to tell if any FII traded in more than one month, or how many FIIs there are in all. Nor does SEBI disclose anywhere officially that it is changing the masks each month. Because of the curiosity of a bright IIT-M undergrad some years ago, we suspected that was the case, and SEBI acknowledged that in response to an RTI query some years ago (though it still does not disclose that in its official documentation). This has caused academic researchers (the only people with an interest in such stale data) to make mistakes despite their complete innocence. Accordingly I have filed an RTI Appeal (note, appeal and not a complaint) per the note below. We feel there is a clear case for calling this misleading information.

Our quarrel is really not with this particular CPIO, who we feel has updated the data using the masking rule prevalent in SEBI for the last few years. The RTI appeal below should be self-explanatory.

Can RTI gurus on this site tell me what has been accepted in the past as "misleading information?" Any advice, comments, suggestions, would be most welcome. Thank you.

Best,

Murgie

----------------RTI APPEAL--------------------- sent by email on 5th Feb 2020 -------------------------------

Shri A.R. Baiwar,

Executive Director, SEBI

RTI Appellate Authority

Dear Sir,

 

Ref ----  CPIO/GPG/LD/2125-2020/4682 (4th Feb 2020)

 

 

I am writing to formally appeal the action of the CPIO Shri GP Garg for the following reason. Unlike a couple of past queries which were never even responded to, I acknowledge that he did, within 30 days, and the website update of the data that we sought was completed, at least for data up to June 2019. This action is greatly appreciated.

 

But when Shri Shyam Benegal, then Rajya Sabha MP, entered into an agreement with SEBI many years ago for release of this data for academic research, and its regular updating, we accepted that FII IDs would be masked, but never realized that SEBI would even change these FII ID masks every month. That does not simply preserve FII privacy but it also limits the utility of the data for academic research. (SEBI also has never disclosed in its documentation of this data that FII ID masks are changed every month, causing several PhD students and faculty to assume that the masks are stable, leading them to mistakes in research for which they themselves are completely innocent victims. This was discovered accidentally by a very curious IIT Madras undergraduate some years ago and confirmed to me in an RTI response some years ago by SEBI).No other regulator in the world who masks trader IDs changes masks over time.

 

Already for large and significant FII trades, the FII IDs are revealed under the Insider Trading Act, as trades above a certain size are block trades and deemed insider trades.  So the purpose behind this changing of FII ID masks cannot be serious, or serve any public purpose.

 

To provide data that misleads is a violation of the RTI Act. And by not revealing that the FII ID masks are changed each month SEBI is deliberately misleading researchers who use the data. At a minimum, SEBI should have the courage to disclose that it is doing so, and perhaps also disclose what valid intelligent purpose is served by knowingly misleading academic researchers.

 

Elsewhere in the world academic research is considered a part of the system of checks and balances in a well-functioning financial market, and is not treated by regulators as the enemy of the people. To promote academic research is considered to be in the public interest, not against it. If you want, I can give you an example of how this data is currently being used by academic researchers. That may help reduce any sense of alarm that a civil servant has about the work done by academics with this data. Please let me know.

 

I sincerely appreciate the efforts of the SEBI CPIO Shri GP Garg in updating the website, given that even that had stopped for 30 months. (He seems to have also returned my RTI application fee for a Sept 2018 RTI query that was never responded to. That is unusually nice behaviour for a civil servant.)  And I realize that he has simply been consistent with whatever masking rule has been in place before his time, and yours. 

 

But I humbly request you to reconsider the policy of changing the FII-ID masks each month, and keep them stable over time. FII privacy will still be preserved (to the extent not already revealed by insider trading disclosures). But the data will be dramatically more useful to academic researchers. Please help. Thank you.

 

Best,

Murgie

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Prasad GLN

The information has to be provided as appearing in a public record as defined under information under RTI Act and Indian Evidence Act.  If the information is not provided as per exact public record, then the information is treated as cooked / opinion and depending on such need for information it can be treated as misleading, if there is an attempt to suppress information to hide a fact.

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murgie

It's more subtle here. SEBI is taking its nonpublic fii records and making them public, after masking the FII id, as a result of an agreement with a then Rajya Sabha MP, as part of a response to his question. No one dreamt then that it would change this mask every month, so that was never specified.

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Prasad GLN

If a public authority wants to take decisions as they like arrogated with men, machinery and money, no one can stop them, and it is only either the Media or HC that can  only bring them on track in larger public interest, if some one initiates such action.  To face any such public authority is not easy for a common man and specific strategy beyond RTI is needed for this purpose.

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